Month: July 2017

Communications: FCC Changes in FRS/GMRS

FRS Changes

The FCC recently changed a number of important rules when dealing with FRS and GMRS radios.  The basics are that each license class can both use channels 1 through 22 but GMRS licensee’s have access to more power (5 Watts) and FRS radios are below 2 Watts.  This is good news for volunteer groups needing to coordinate with unlicensed team members.  Combination FRS/GMRS radios were only legally usable on channels 1-14 for unlicensed persons.  The FCC ruling makes manufacturers designate FRS radios differently from GMRS radios based on broadcast power.  Existing radios are grandfathered in.  The great part is that you don’t have to limit your team to channels 1-14, all channels are available and GMRS licensed persons can run a radio dispatch using a more powerful radio and coordinate with unlicensed persons.  The license is also cheaper that it was and lasts 10 years instead of 5 years.  You may see more digital radios and features enter the market as Bluetooth and WiFi are now allowed to be used along side FRS frequencies.

This means some new features potentially to look for when shopping for FRS radios in the future would be:

  • GPS location broadcasting (like the Garmin Rino series)
  • Short text message transmission
  • Blue tooth hands free features
  • Wifi features

Dual mode FRS/GMRS radios until this point caused many people to unwittingly violate the law by using frequencies they were not licensed to use.  This also causes problems when training people because the radios don’t stop you from using a licensed channel.  The power increase (2W) is extremely useful as half a watt has very little range.

Things that have not changed:

  • FCC Part 95 frequencies still require a type accepted radio


Innexpensive radios


Inexpensive Chinese radios have flooded the market and we are seeing more and more volunteers using them.  But here is the rub, most sellers don’t understand what they are selling and don’t warn the customer.  So here are a few tips to help guide your volunteers and to develop your communications plan.

Key issue: Radio FCC type acceptance

Business band

Some Baofeng or PoFung radios (not all) are FCC type accepted for Business band.  This means if you have a commercial business band license then you can use these radios.

GMRS radio type acceptance

Even with a GMRS radio license (which covers you and your immediate family) you are still required to use FCC type accepted radios.  Baofeng radios are not type accepted for FRS or GMRS.

Why does type acceptance matter for Business band, FRS and GMRS

FRS and GMRS are narrow-band FM radio with power restrictions and antenna design restrictions.
A Baofeng radio can in theory transmit using narrow-band and low power making it possible to use a Baofeng on those frequencies (possible although illegal).  The catch is that when programming you need to make sure the radio is set to low power and to use narrow band.  Most people with these radios don’t understand this and cause interference on adjacent channels.

Ham radio

If you are a Licensed Ham radio operator, you can use almost any radio regardless of type acceptance because your license only covers you, the control operator.  This is because an amateur radio operator is expected to develop new technologies in addition to participating in emergency response, international relations …etc.

Common Inexpensive radio models

Dual band models
  • UV5R (and variants)
  • BF-F8,GT-3 (and variants)
  • UV82
70CM only (usually 1-3 watts)
  • GT-1 (and variants)
  • BF-888
  • ATR-22 (Amcrest)

Re-branded by : Retevis, Pofung, Baofeng …

Key features

  • Dual receive (…kind of)
  • Dual band (a vast majority use 2m and 70cm)
  • GT and newer variants have up to 8 watts, otherwise 4 watts or lower.
  • Dirt cheap (less than 50$us)
  • Dirt cheap accessories
  • Buy in bulk (package deals with accessories for ~35$ per unit)

Key problems

  • High out-of-the-box failure rate
  • Flimsy connectors on earlier models
  • accessories are usually by not always cross-compatible
  • Squelch and filter interference issues on earlier models
  • No memory storage from key pad (programming cable only)
  • Limited VFO operation on some models.
  • Not all models are FCC type accepted so they are only usable for ham radio.


So Quantity over quality, I own one of these radios to hand to hams who forgot to bring their radios to events or deployments.  If they break I tend not to worry very much.  If you have to traipse though hell and you depend on your radio to work while wading through the bayou, the baofeng or anything else listed here isn’t the radio for you.  Spend some extra money on something that is reliable and rated to resist the elements.  Also, if you intend to use this radio something it is not certified to do, then please be doubly sure to use the right settings (ex. low power and narrow band).